How do they manage the swim? Do they all go at once?
The pros do start ten minutes ahead of everyone else, but there are still several thousand athletes starting the swim at one time. The swim is probably the most dangerous part of the Ironman. People get kicked, hit, pushed under by people swimming over them, and generally treated like spawning salmon. Often, slow swimmers will seed themselves too close to the front, and that makes a bad situation worse.
How/what do they eat? I find it really hard to exercise vigorously for a good while after I've eaten--but they need the energy. I know some marathoners down Gu (or something like it)--is that what IMers do?
They all do different things. Some Ironmen load their transition bags with Big Macs and fries, sandwiches, fruit and other real food. Others, like George, rely on sports nutrition products (drinks, gels, bars), plus the bananas available in aide stations on the course. George uses a custom blended powder that is supposed to help him recover some of the salts he sweats out so heavily. George started his day with a peanut butter and honey sandwich. He’ll end it, more than likely, with a big burger and fries after the finish!
Both times George DNF’ed, he was severely dehydrated and cramping from loss of salt and potassium. He’s a particularly salty sweater, which makes it hard for him to handle heat like they are having today. He seems to be okay right now, but about half-way through the marathon is when he gets in trouble. I’m sitting on pins and needles for his third run split to post.
What is the longest training George did? Would he do, say, a 75-mile bike ride immediately followed by a 15-mile run? (I can't even walk right after a 45-minute bike ride, so I'm in total awe.)
I think George actually trains fewer hours than most IM participants. He tries to push harder rather than longer, but it varies every year. In 2006, he did RAGBRAI (a 600+ mile ride across Iowa in one week), and that helped him finish IM Wisconsin that year. This year, he did several 75-80 mile rides and one 110-ish mile ride about a month ago. Most of his rides are around 50 miles, though. He calls a 25-30 mile ride an “easy spin.” (insert rolling eyes here!)
He does do “bricks”: a ride followed by a run. His are not usually that long, though. The longest run George did was around 12 miles, but he had several injuries this year, so his run training was perhaps slower than usual because of that.
He swims at the YMCA several times a week, and takes his wetsuit out to a local lake for open-water swims a couple of times.
Most years, he participates in several shorter, Olympic distance triathlons starting in May, and some years, he does a half-Ironman. Most IMers would think his lighter training schedule crazy, but it allows him to balance work, training, and family very nicely. He’s very good about spending plenty of time with the boys, and will incorporate Nick’s triathlon training with his own this winter by having Nick ride his bike while George runs.
Any other questions? I'll try to answer them. Once George his back, he may correct my answers, LOL! My perception and his sometimes are different.